Triple your scholarly productivity by writing daily
Some scholars astonish others in terms of their numbers of papers accepted and grants funded. Why do some flourish while others flounder? Even when you can’t work harder, there are important ways to work smarter. This post, the first in a series of five, offers strategies that can help you learn to draft manuscripts quickly and well by writing daily and by holding yourself accountable to someone else for doing so.
Scholars have found these strategies triple productivity. In one study (Gray et al., 2018), more than 90 faculty members and graduate students followed these strategies by writing for 30 minutes daily and holding themselves accountable to others for doing so. The participants increased their annual rate of finishing manuscripts from two to nearly six (Gray et al., 2018). Participants accomplished this by writing for only 30 minutes per day, four days per week.
Writing in small daily increments of at least 15-30 minutes may be the best way to triple your productivity. By writing or revising in small increments, you diminish the daunting task of writing an entire manuscript. You protect many hours per day for other duties, including research other than writing (literature review, data collection, number crunching, bench work, etc.). And, you can prioritize writing over all other work activities by doing it first in your day or work day before reading your texts or email or doing anything else. To reduce interruptions, turn off notifications of message arrival.
You may think you cannot get anything done in only 15-30 minutes, but this feeling comes from not writing yesterday and from not planning at the end of each writing session for your next session. By writing every day, you gather momentum for your writing and can start each session much faster. You may want to leave yourself a note at the end of each writing session that tells you what to do next. If you are on deadline or otherwise want to be uber productive, read that note right before you go to bed so you will think about it overnight. In any case, write first thing in the morning, which will mean you think about it throughout the day. By taking these measures you will find yourself able to start writing as soon as you open your manuscript and to accomplish something substantial in as few as 15-30 minutes.
Most people need support beyond their own willpower to begin and sustain a new habit. Research suggests that you are more likely to write daily, starting tomorrow, with simple, steady support: (1) keep records of your time spent writing daily and (2) hold yourself accountable to a coach. Keep records of your time spent writing daily and keep those records on a spreadsheet across the years. These records will allow you to see trends, which will keep you motivated for the long haul. Also, choose an “accountability coach” from among those people whose opinion you care deeply about—and who care deeply about you. These people can include a close friend or a trusted colleague. A helpful coach is someone who will challenge you when you fail and applaud you when you succeed.
To hold yourself accountable to your coach, consider the following actions:
- Explain to your coach the importance of writing daily by presenting the evidence in this post before beginning to send your daily writing minutes.
- Send your coach a daily email record of your writing minutes and a weekly summary. In your daily email, send the number of minutes in the subject line so your coach doesn’t even have to open the email, unless the number is zero.
- If you did not write on a given day, write “0—see below” in the subject line and send a short explanation. By doing this, you will begin to see the reasons that keep you from writing and start avoiding them.
- Send a weekly summary so you can see trends. Send a note such as, “I wrote five days this week for a total of 2.5 hours.”
Be prepared to encounter challenges as you strive to write daily but know that your efforts will pay off. It took me four years of trying to write daily, bar none. I now write regularly across time, on holidays, when I am (a little) sick, when I am between writing projects and even (sometimes) during my travels. Last year, by trying to write seven days per week, I managed to average six days per week. I accomplished much by keeping records and sharing them with my coach. So consider this a major life change akin to starting and maintaining an exercise program. Be patient with yourself but be persistent.
Keeping records may sound like a lot of work, but it actually requires about 15 minutes per week and the results are impressive. In exchange for these 15 minutes, you can keep yourself writing daily and submit manuscripts three times faster. Please weigh the costs and benefits. I am confident you will make the “write” decision. Hold yourself accountable to a writing log and a coach for the rest of your writing life!
See the other posts in this series:
This blog post was adapted from Gray, T. (2020). Writing your dissertation quickly and well. In K. Townsend, M. N. K. Saunders, R. Loudoun, & E. A. Morrison (Eds.) How to keep your doctorate on track: Insights from students’ and supervisors’ experiences. Cheltenham, U. K.: Edward Elgar. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
The above mentioned chapter is itself a summary of the book, Publish & Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar (2020), 15th anniversary edition, which can be purchased for $25 at teaching.nmsu.edu/publish-flourish/ or in Kindle for $9.99 on Amazon.
Gray, T., Madson, L., & Jackson, M. (2018). Publish & Flourish: Helping scholars become better, more prolific writers. To Improve the Academy, 37, 243–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/tia2.20081
Tara Gray serves as the first director of the Teaching Academy at New Mexico State University (NMSU). The Teaching Academy provides professional development aimed at helping educators live extraordinary teaching lives embedded in exceptional careers. Tara has published 50 scholarly works, including four books. She is the author of Publish & Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar. She has been honored at New Mexico State and nationally with ten awards for teaching, scholarship or service. She has presented Publish & Flourish workshops to 10,000 participants at more than 120 venues, in 35 states, and in seven countries. Workshop participants report that Dr. Gray is “spirited, entertaining, and informative—she’s anything but gray!”